Photo by Dian Marini
Rich Beech caught up with Guthrie Govan , just a couple of weeks before the release of the second Aristocrats album, Culture Clash...
It's not often you get the chance to interview one of your guitar heroes, so when I was offered the chance to have a chat with Guthrie Govan, I could have asked him 100 questions if I had the time.
But Mr Govan is a busy man, the new Aristocrats album is about to come out (mid July), he's just finished a string of guitar workshops in Brazil, and then he's going on tour with Steven Wilson.
So despite his busy scehdule, it was great to catch up with the man who is surely one of the most inventive and mind-blowing guitarists in the world right now.
Ladies and gents... Guthrie Govan:
RB: Hi Guthrie, thanks for chatting to me, what are you up to at the moment and how's life treating you?
GG: "Right now I'm at Heathrow Airport bound for somewhere in Germany, where I'll be playing a couple of festival gigs with Steven Wilson. Over the last few months, I've been doing a lot of touring with Steven (we did a big tour in Europe, followed by another one covering the US and South America) plus an exhausting but thoroughly worthwhile clinic tour in Brazil. It's good to be busy, I guess."
The new Aristocrats album sounds bolder, and dare I say more experimental than the last (not to say that the first one didn't have its fair share of musical experimentation), was this a conscious decision or did it come about as a result of gelling as a band?
"The latter, I would say. The more we've played together as a trio, the more we've come to realise that what makes the lineup distinctive is simply the way we interact with each other, rather than any particular blend of musical genres.
"This is a very liberating state of affairs: it basically means that we can feel free to be as weird as we like during the writing process, safe in the knowledge that the end product will still sound suitably Aristocratic... and yes, this mindset is definitely more evident on the new album than it was on our debut recording!"
And it sounds like you have a very democratic process with the band, with each of you bringing three songs to the table, and producing their own songs, how do you guys make sure the sound is consistent throughout the album?
"It's true - this band operates democratically in everything it does, from planning a tour to deciding whether or not the overdriven bass track should be 0.2dB louder in a mix!
"In terms of ensuring sonic consistency, I think each of us has a pretty recognisable tone, plus the guy who mixes our stuff (the very splendid Mark Niemiec) totally understands what we're going for and why we play the things we play, so hopefully those elements work together to provide the necessary degree of sonic consistency."
The Aristocrats thing seemed to happen so quickly, but now its in full flight, do you plan on keeping it going for a few years to come, despite all your other commitments?
"Very much so! Initially we came together entirely by chance and our sole intention was simply to play a one-off 30-minute set at a NAMM Show bass party, but immediately after that first gig we all felt that the lineup seemed to have a unique kind of chemistry, which we wanted to explore further - not only because it was intriguing to us, but also because it was so much fun. We all like the idea of this being a real band, rather than one of those short-lived "fusion all-star" projects, so I'm very confident that we still have plenty of notes left in us."
We hope so! One of our readers, Dom Valentini (via Facebook) asks: "What can we expect from the new album?"
"Well... the release date is in mid-July, so you'll know soon enough! We also intend to post various teasers on YouTube between now and the release date (one such clip has already been uploaded, in fact) so hopefully any curious and/or doubtful readers will check out some of that stuff...
"In short, though, it will have all the elements you heard on the first album, but it covers a wider stylistic range, it's somehow more extreme - the pretty bits are prettier, the aggressive bits are more aggressive, etc - and hopefully it will come across that the band is more of a "well-oiled machine" now that we've done so much touring together.
"Oh, and there was one other significant departure from the approach we took for the first album: we relaxed our strict "no overdubs" policy, so some of the tunes (particularly Marco's three contributions) have been decorated somewhat with judicious studio layering. We reasoned that people will be able to hear how the tunes sound in a "raw trio" format if they come to one of our shows, so for the album... why not take a little extra time and make sure each tune comes out just the way it was intended to?"
When I was growing up it seemed that everyone wanted to be a shred guitarist, that was the pinnacle for teenage boys at the time, but you're part of a group of guitarists who seem to have created this culture where elements of fusion and jazz are becoming much 'cooler'. Young guitarists seem to be taking a much less prescriptive approach in their playing, avoiding rigid styles, and in the UK in particular we have this great crop of very accomplished young men and women coming through, is there anyone in particular you'd tip for greatness in the future?
"Well, I think it's entirely healthy to be interested in absorbing elements from different styles: I've always approached the instrument in that way. If someone wants to play only metal or only bebop, then fair enough - the important thing, after all, is simply to be true to yourself and play what you believe in, whatever that may be - but I think the new, exciting developments in music often tend to arise when someone blends a range of existing influences in a fresh and unexpected way. If I've done anything at all to encourage young guitarists to explore a broader range of the musical landscape than they would otherwise have done, then I'm very happy.
"In terms of "new players to watch out for"... people are constantly sending me messages saying "you have to check out this guy" and attaching the obligatory YouTube link, but to be honest I never get around to watching them all. In a sense, perhaps I don't really want to be too aware of what everyone else is doing on the instrument these days: my main interest is in "music" rather than "guitar music" and I do think there's a subtle distinction to be made there!
"Having said that, I very much like the way Alex Hutchings plays, and there's a guy in Italy named Daniele Gottardo who is doing some very interesting stuff. There are so many Internet "chops" guys doing technically accomplished but ultimately derivative things, so it definitely cheers me up when I hear players like those guys - players who have something unique and distinctive to say.
"In the slightly longer term, anyone who isn't familiar with Jess Lewis should probably check her out: stylistically, I suspect that she's still working out exactly what her "thing" is, but she certainly has a freakishly precocious talent, and I'm very curious to hear what she chooses to do with it over the coming years!"